Last summer I was asked to do a song-writing activity with campers and staff of a small day camp for teenagers with a variety of physical and developmental challenges. After watching the campers and staff for an hour or so, I got a sense of the open and loving approach the staff took in encouraging the kids. That fit right in with my inclusive approach to songwriting. I only had 90 minutes. There were 12 campers and 5 staff, so I decided to see if we could write a "camp song" together.

We started with the title. I asked them how they would describe their experience at the camp. A young girl said, "It's like a Thanksgiving every day." A boy said, "It's like your birthday." Lots of heads nodding in agreement with both ideas. I said, "How about 'It's a holiday birthday summer'?" A beautiful young girl in a wheelchair pumped her fist in the air and gave a loud "Yeah!" "OK," I said, "It's a Holiday Birthday Summer, Yeah!" Everyone laughed and some of the kids jumped up and down in their seats. We had our title.

Then I asked them to tell me about some of the things they had done at camp that they liked. From their answers, I wrote down the following verse:

We like going swimming and doing the canonball

We like the carousel and going to the gardens

We like ice-cream and going on on field trips

We like being here with many new friends

Along the way they mentioned "pranks" they had pulled on the staff (with active encouragement of the other staff). It also seemed that the camp director was someone they didn't mess with. Out of all that came this verse:

We bandaged up Sean and sponge-bombed Heidi

We teased "old" Connie, pinned the tail on Cory

But we don't mess around with Quinn

No, we don't mess around with Quinn


I used a simple C-G7 progression for the chorus, with four repetitions of the mantra:

It's a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

For the verses I used an F-G (moving F up a step to get G). The song structure was:

Chorus

Verse one

Chorus

Verse two

Chorus

Now, here comes the coolest part. We then practiced the song with everyone singing. After only one or two repetitions, everyone was in the groove. We kept on going for five or six times through. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a small crowd of Rec Center users was gathering just outside the door to the room and that bunch of smiling people was the audience for our little concert.

I typed the words and chords on my laptop, printed them out, and showed one of the staff people how to play the chords on her iPad's Garage Band App using "smart guitar."

I heard they sang their camp song every day from then on.

 

It’s a Holiday Birthday Summer                                    Leisure Links Camp, 2011


C                                       G7

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!


F                                   G

We like to go swimming and doing the cannonball

We like the carousel and going to the gardens

We like ice-cream and going on field trips

We like being here with many new friends


It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!


F                                 G

We bandaged up Sean and sponge-bombed Heidi,

We teased “old” Connie, pinned the tail on Cory

 C                     G7                  C

But we don’t mess around with Quinn

No, we don’t mess around with Quinn


It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!

It’s a holiday birthday summer, yeah!



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